2 April 2012

Zimbabwe: Social Enterprises Gather Momentum


As social enterprise venturing increasingly gains significance worldwide, there is still some confusion regarding what really constitutes a social entrepreneurial initiative and what drives the discipline.

There are so many definitions that have been coined around the subject of social enterprise and as I researched on this ubiquitous field, it all zeroed down to some critical elements bordering on identifying opportunities and coming up with innovative solutions to pursue profit and other aims.

Unlike the traditional entrepreneur whose primary objective is to generate profit, social entrepreneurs are committed to further social and environmental goals.

Various scholars have described social entrepreneurship as a combination of the best practices in entrepreneurship with a sense of social mission.

Dees (1998) described social entrepreneurship as ". . . combining the passion of a social mission with an image of business-like discipline, innovation and determination commonly associated with, for instance, the high-tech pioneers of Silicon Valley".

It should be understood that social entrepreneurship involves the paradigm shift from the profit sector to the non-profit sector.

This implies that social entrepreneurship incorporates the enterprise orientation with social objectives and social ownership, which means that the social enterprise is typically accountable to community stakeholders rather than financial investment shareholders.

Dees et. al (2001) argues that a social entrepreneurship is any business venture created for a social purpose -- imitating/reducing a social problem or a market failure -- and to generate social value whole operating within the financial discipline, innovation and determination of a private sector business.

One aspect that appears to have killed the concept of social enterprise among us particularly in Zimbabwe is the dependency business model mainly driven by non-governmental organisations.

A culture of depending entirely on charitable contributions and Government subsidies appears to kill the spirit to engage in income generating initiatives that can actually fund social development in the respective communities.

There is also the sustainability challenge centred on the ability to fund the future of a non-profit venture through a mixed revenue stream, that is, a combination of earned income, charitable contributions and public sector subsidies.

A good social enterprise should be self-sufficient and be able to fund the future of other similar ventures through earned income alone.

What then constitutes a social enterprise? It is any organisation, in any sector, that uses earned income strategies to pursue a double or triple bottom line, either alone (as a social sector business) or as part of a mixed revenue stream that includes charitable contributions and public sector subsidies. Triple bottom line here refers to the three pillars embracing the people, the planet and profit.

Globally there are some notable social entrepreneurs like Nobel Peace Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus whose Grameen Bank spearheaded microfinance globally, the Ashoka innovators for the public and Carlo Petrini's "slow food movement" which has more than 100 000 members in 132 countries committed to rescuing cultural traditions and preserved biodiversity.

Unemployment continues to be a problem not only in Zimbabwe, but the world over with thousands of graduates entering the job market every year.

Former South African president Thabo Mbeki provided a useful answer to the unemployment problem.

"Self-employment is no longer just a good idea, it is the only option," he once said.

While all this theory appears to be borrowed from the first world and not applicable to the local scenario, so many opportunities actually abound for social enterprise to come to the fore and address some of the challenges the country is facing at the moment.

Emerging from a decade of economic challenges, there are so many areas that have been suffering from neglect and with limited financial resources coming from Treasury and the donor community, it remains to us to be innovative and rise to the challenge.

In Harare, for instance, perennial water shortages, garbage collection, street lighting and a dilapidated road network are beckoning for action from the responsible citizenry. Should it be entirely left to the city fathers to deal with on their own?

Can we not call on the good men and women of Harare to come to the party on a social mission and establish not-for-profit ventures to address pertinent issues?

Institutionally the Government and the local authorities have a significant role to play in encouraging social entrepreneurs, as they are the agents of change in their communities as they strive to transform their communities.

They need all the support from the authorities to ensure that they bring change and sustainable development good enough to last for generations.

Naturally, there is no given formula on how this can be done but I would appreciate some feedback on the following issues:

1. What is the role of the Government in promoting social entrepreneurship as a tool for sustainable development?

2. How have social entrepreneurial organisations impacted on the livelihood of Zimbabweans?

3. What are the environmental factors affecting social entrepreneurship development?

4. How can investment in social services influence sustainable development?

It is anticipated that this will help to gain an understanding on how social entrepreneurship can impact on sustainable development particularly in Zimbabwe.

As this is a relatively new area of study, we hope to contribute to the body of knowledge in the field of social entrepreneurship.

As always, let's make money.

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